Legislators give update on transportation at TAG meeting

TAG meeting Legislators discuss transportation issues in the Houston region at the Transportation Advocacy Group annual meeting Jan. 6.[/caption]

Despite the overwhelming approval of Proposition 1 at the polls last November, legislators instrumental in passing the state Constitutional amendment say the measure, which provides funding for road improvements and infrastructure maintenance projects, is only the beginning of an ongoing battle for mobility funding. Supporters are optimistic about further funding opportunities in the upcoming legislative session.

Texas Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley provided an update on the disbursement of Prop. 1 funds in the Houston region at an annual Transportation Advocacy Group meeting Jan.6. He highlighted TxDOT's need for $5 billion in annual revenues per year to maintain and build roads.

"We know that good roads, good mobility, good transit doesn't spontaneously combust," he said. "It takes a lot of forethought, planning, a lot of diligence and work."

The formula for distributing the funds throughout the state is based on the price of a barrel of oil, Moseley said. The Houston district will see approximately $275 million for additional projects in 2015. These projects will be programmed beginning in February and will be primarily shovel-ready projects.

Moseley estimated roughly 40 percent of the $1.7 billion will go towards congestion relief. Around 30 percent will go to connectivity, 15 percent will go into system maintenance and 15 percent will go directly back to the energy sectors of the state, where demand is growing for mobility projects to ease the burden on regional roads.

"These were primarily Farm to Market roads that were never designed to do what they are having to do, but they are also providing a nice revenue for the state," Moseley said.

A panel consisting of former TxDOT Commissioner Ned Holmes—who also serves on the board of the Move Texas Forward traffic advocacy group—Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Jim Murphy and TAG board member Jeff Collins discussed goals for the upcoming session. Panelists analyzed possible sources of transportation funding given the new leadership in both the house and senate.

"I think the climate is right in some respects," Garcia said. "For the first time, I'm hearing more discussion, I'm hearing more debate. I think the legislature is going to be open to looking at alternatives. We're going to be mindful of the mandates that we have to deal with."

Garcia said legislators have to move from the baby steps of Proposition 1 into a more viable perpetual type of funding. Other options are being considered to raise funds for transportation, including using a portion of the motor vehicle tax, license plate fees, sticker fees and other fees.

"Those combined will not get us to the $5 million shortfall, but it will get us to about two or three billion," Garcia said. "I am convinced because there's been so much discussion that we will get something done. What shape it will take, I don't know."

Vehicle sales generate about $4 billion dollars, Murphy said.

"I think it will end up in the $5 billion dollar range of new revenue," he said. "If you start to market it pretty quickly, it will go. I think a portion of the sales tax for cars is an easy one."

Murphy said the issue was not a partisan one, but more a matter of limited resources and competing needs. The panel members agreed that competing needs have been a stumbling block in the past, but that the climate of new leadership and the legislature's willingness to support transportation funding favors a push toward mobility.

"I think we are going to see a pretty clear mandate that says we want to see something happen in terms of funding transportation,"Murpy said. "Gov. Patrick has talked about trying to find some tax relief, and there's room to do some of that as well."

Holmes said Move Texas Forward is aligned with TAG to help the legislature pass a predictable recurring funding spree for transportation.

"I believe that Commissioner Moseley and TxDOT will make some real progress," he said.